Photo Manipulation Tutorial: Creating Sinister Nail Fingers [+Video]

In this tutorial, I will show you how to create this rather creepy nail finger (um, fingernail?) photo manipulation.


  • Created in: Photoshop CS3



Here's a video to see the tutorial in action. If you find the instructions not specific (or not beginner-friendly) don't worry, all the details are included in the written steps below.

Step 1: Opening the hand image.

Download this hand stock image.

In Photoshop, open the hand photo using File » Open (Ctrl+O).

Open hand image Open the hand image in Photoshop.

Now I may not mention this throughout the tutorial but don't forget to save your work (File » Save or Ctrl+S) from time to time!

Step 2: Converting the Background layer.

On the Layers window (Window » Layers), right click the Background layer and select "Layer From Background".

Layer From Background Convert the Background layer to a normal layer.

On the window that pops up, enter "hand" as the layer name then click "OK".

Step 3: Removing the background.

Switch to the Pen tool (P) and make sure that it is set to "Paths" on the Options bar.

Create a path around the hand layer.

Create path

Once you've completed the path, hit Ctrl+Enter (Right click » Make Selection) to create a selection of the hand.

Make selection

Finally, add a layer mask using Layer » Layer Mask » Reveal Selection to hide the background, i.e. the non selected area.

Add layer mask A quicker way to add a layer mask.

Step 4: Adding the background image.

Download this texture.

Then open the texture using Ctrl+O.

Go to Select » All (Ctrl+A) to select the entire image.

Open image Select the whole image for copying using Ctrl+A.

Copy the selection using Edit » Copy (Ctrl+C) then close the image using File » Close (Ctrl+W).

Back to our original document, paste the texture we copied using Edit » Paste (Ctrl+V).

Paste selection

Step 5: Setting up the background.

Now move the texture below the "hand" layer by pressing Ctrl+[ or just grab and drag it downwards.

Rename the texture's layer by double clicking its layer name. Set its name to "bg".

Organize layers

Here's what we have so far.


Step 6: Transforming the background.

On the Layers window, convert the "bg" layer to a Smart Object by right clicking it and selecting "Convert to Smart Object".

Convert to Smart Object

A Smart Object has a tiny symbol on its layer thumbnail.

Now that it's a Smart Object, we can transform the "bg" layer non-destructively.

While on the "bg" layer, go to Edit » Free Transform (Ctrl+T) and rotate the layer clockwise (or counter clockwise if you want).

Rotate background

Then while holding down Alt+Shift, grab one of the corner handles and drag outwards until the width of the background fills the entire canvas.

Hit Enter to apply the transformation.

Step 7: Adding effects to the background.

Since we'll be adding more layers for the background, let's organize the layers for a bit.

Group the "bg" layer by going to Layers » Group Layers (Ctrl+G). Rename the group to "bg" by double clicking its group name (Right Click » Group Properties).

Group layer

Now on the "bg" layer, go to Layer » Duplicate Layer » OK (Ctrl+J).

Duplicate layer

Then on the "bg copy" layer, go to Filter » Blur » Gaussian Blur. Set the Radius to 6.8 pixels.

Gaussian blur settings

Click OK then change the "bg copy" layer's Blending Mode to "Multiply".

Set blending mode

Step 8: Adding more effects to the background.

Still on the "bg copy" layer, go to Layer » New Adjustment Layer » Black & White.

Alternatively, just Alt+Click (without releasing) on the "Create new fill or adjustment layer" button at the bottom of the Layers window.

Black and White Adjustment Layer A quicker way to add an Adjustment Layer.

Use either method so that the "New Layer" window will pop-up. At the window, make sure to put a check on the "Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask".

Create clipping mask

Click "OK" then set the following:

  • Reds: 55
  • Yellows: 73
  • Greens: 4
  • Cyans: 64
  • Blues: -12
  • Magentas: 60

Black and White settings

Add another Adjustment Layer the same way but this time, select "Levels" then set the following:

  • Input Levels: 102, 1.2, 196

Levels settings

And this is what are background looks like so far.


Step 9: Adding much more effects to the background.

Next is adding a bit of highlights and shadows to the background. Similar to the lighting of the hands, we lighten up the right side then darken the left part of the background.

To lighten up the background, we will just lessen the effect of the Levels Adjustment Layer.

To do that, click on the Level's layer mask to set it as the active layer.

Select layer mask A border around the thumbnail indicates it is selected.

Switch to the Gradient tool (G) and set the foreground color to Black. At the Options bar, make sure to select the gradient with transparency and set it to "Radial Gradient".

Using the Gradient tool, add the gradient from the right of the canvas up to the middle or so.

Add gradient

Now we have the "bg copy" layer's texture slightly lightened up. Notice that its layer mask has the gradient we added earlier.


Step 10: Adding much much more effects to the background.

For the shadows, add a new layer (Ctrl+Shift+N) above the Adjustment Layers and name it as the "gradient" layer.

Create new layer

Once again, switch to the Gradient tool (G). Set the foreground to a dark brown color (#776355). At the Options bar, select "Linear Gradient" this time.

Using the Gradient tool, add the gradient from the left of the canvas up to the middle or so.

Gradient effect

After adding the gradient, set its blending mode to "Linear Burn".

Linear burn blending mode

Step 11: Adjusting the hand layer's colors.

Group the "hand" layer (Ctrl+G) and name it as the "hand" group.

Group the layer

Add a Color Balance Adjustment Layer on top of the "hand" layer. Note that you don't have to use a clipping mask here (Well you can, but I'll explain more later).

Then use the following settings:

  • Midtones: -7, 10, -7
  • Shadows: 3, -3, 2
  • Highlights: -4, 4, -25

Color balance settings

Now notice that since we didn't use a clipping mask, even our background group was affected by the Color Balance Adjustment. This can be easily fixed by changing the "hand" group's blending mode to "Normal".

NOTE: As I mentioned earlier, you can just use a clipping mask (like we did for the "bg copy"'s adjustments layers) but since the adjustments are meant for the whole "hand" group anyway, it's easier to just change the group's blending mode. Also I though this is a nice trick to share so, yeah..

Step 12: Adjusting the hand layer's colors - Part 2

Finally, add a Brightness/Contrast Adjustment Layer.

And set the following:

  • Brightness: 30
  • Contrast: 43

Step 13: Amping up the shadows and highlights of the hand layer.

Open the hand image (Ctrl+O) once again in Photoshop.

Open hand image

Add a Levels Adjustment Layer above the hand image but don't make any changes yet. Just click "OK" for now.

Then go to the Channels window (Window » Channels) and set the blue channel as the only visible channel (Ctrl+3).

Select blue channel

Go back to the Layers window then double click the Levels Adjustment Layer thumbnail to edit it.

Set the following:

  • Input Levels: 83, 1.00, 154

Levels settings

Select the entire image (Ctrl+A) then go to Edit » Copy Merged.

You can save the image if you want (say, use it for future reference or what) but it isn't needed. Close the file (Ctrl+W) once your're done.

Step 14: Blending the shadow and highlights with the hand layer.

Back to our hands, paste our black/white image (Ctrl+V) above the "hand" layer.

Rename this layer to "dark-light".

Paste layer

At the Layers window, right click the "dark-light" layer then select Create Clipping Mask to hide its background.

Create clipping mask

Now set its Blending Mode to "Multiply" and the Opacity to around 71%.

Now we can move onto the fingers!

Step 15: Setting up the nail image.

Download this nail image.

Open the nail image (Ctrl+O).

Using the Rectangular Marquee tool (M), create a selection around the nails as shown below.

Select nails

Copy the selection (Ctrl+C) then close the file (Ctrl+W).

Back to our hands, paste the selection (Ctrl+V) above the "hand" group.

Rename this layer to "thumb" for now.

Paste nails

Step 16

Create a group (Ctrl+G) for the "thumb" layer and name it as "fingernails".

Using the Move tool (V) position the "thumb" layer above the thumb finger.

Lower the Opacity of the "thumb" layer just enough so that you can see the thumb's outline and the nails as well. I've set mine to 66%.

Adjust thumb layer

Before we continue to work with the thumb let's add more nails for the rest of the fingers. Duplicate the "thumb" layer by hitting Ctrl+J 4 times.

Rename the thumb layers starting from the top as "thumb", "index", "middle", "ring", "pinky".

Except for the "thumb" layer, hide the rest of the fingers by clicking on the eye icon next to the layer thumbnail.

Duplicate nails

Step 17: Selecting the thumb's nails.

Now you might want to further adjust the "thumb" layer's position. Just use the Move tool (V) for that.

Once you find a good area to use, switch to the Pen tool and create a path around the nails using the shape of the thumb as a guide. Don't stick to the exact shape of the finger though, feel free to follow the shape of the nails which are jutting out.

Create path

When creating the path, you might encounter nails which are overlapping or broken off. Just imagine the shape of the missing parts and create the path around it. We will clean these up later on.

Make up the shape of nails which are broken off or overlapping.

Once your're done, hit Ctrl+Enter to make a selection of the path you created.

Now add a layer mask to the "thumb" layer to hide the non-selected areas of the nails.

Then bring the opacity of the "thumb" layer back to 100%.

If needed, readjust the position (move/rotate) of the nails over the finger using the Move tool (V).

Step 18: Extracting the nails for the rest of the fingers.

Repeat Step 17 on the rest of the fingers. Just make sure that when picking the nails to use for the finger, try using different areas of the nails image. You can also flip (horizontally/vertically) or rotate the nails around.

Here's how I positioned the nails on each of the fingers.





And here's the result after adding the layer masks.

Step 19: Removing the "real" fingers.

At the Layers window, go to the "hand" layer then Right click » Convert to Smart Object.

Next, add a layer mask.

Convert the "hand" layer to a Smart Object then add a Layer Mask.

Now make sure you are on the layer mask then set the foreground color to White (#FFFFFF).

Erase the fingers using the Eraser tool (E) (round hard brush) or if you prefer, the Lasso tool (L) and Del/Backspace key.

Remove fingers

Step 20: Removing the fingers which can't be erased.

You might encounter areas which can't be erased, like in my case: the thumb.

Unwanted areas

To fix this, create a new layer (Ctrl+Shift+N) above the "dark-light" layer and name it as "patch".

Add patch layer

Switch to the Clone Stamp tool (S). At the Options bar, set the Sample to "Current & Below".

Now on the "patch" layer, using a hard round brush (Hardness set to around 72%), pick an area to clone by using Alt+Click. Then stamp it on the area to cover by clicking/brushing.

Using the stamp tool

Continue using the Clone Stamp tool until you have completely covered the excess area.

Completely cover unwanted area

Step 21: Cleaning the thumb's nails.

Now let's work on cleaning up the broken and overlapping nails. Let's start with the thumb first.

Create a group for the "thumb" layer and call it the "thumb" group.

When cleaning up the nails, you might have to erase excess areas. Do not erase the "thumb" itself. Do it on its layer mask instead.

For patching up the nails (using the clone stamp, copy and pasting..) we will use a separate layer for that. Create a new layer (Ctrl+Shift+N) above the "thumb" layer and name it as "patch". Once again, this is where all your edits will go and not on the "thumb" layer itself.

Now there are a couple of ways to clean the nails. Whichever method you choose is up to you.

Using the Clone Stamp tool.

One way is to use the Clone Stamp tool (S). You can use this if you want to remove the overlapping portions. Just like what we did with the unwanted areas earlier in Step 20, use the Clone Stamp tool the same way.

But as you can see, I'm not great with the Clone Stamp. I actually prefer the next methods - which I'm going to focus on.

Using copy/paste

In this method, you just copy nails from other areas of the "thumb" layer (or any finger actually) then paste it over or attach it to the broken nail.

So here's how it goes:

Pick a nail from any of the fingers (or the nail image itself) that you think would fit the area to patch. I picked mine from the "index" layer. Using the Lasso tool (L), make a quick selection of it. Or just use the Pen tool (P) if you want it done cleanly.

Select teh patch to use

Hit Ctrl+J to duplicate the selection onto a new layer. Now move the duplicate layer above (or below, depending on what you need) the thumb's "patch" layer.

Rearrange the layers

Using the Transform tool (Ctrl+T), position/rotate/scale the duplicate over the nail to patch. Hit Enter to apply the transformation.

Transform the patch

Now erase (E) the excess areas of the patch to clean it up.

Erase excess areas

NOTE: For the patch layers (such as "Layer 1" in the image above), I did not convert it into a Smart Object (for non-destructive transformation, since scaling and re-scaling can leave you with a pixelated mess) nor did I use a layer mask (for the clean up). You can of course use them and I recommend it as well, especially if you feel you are bound to keep transforming the layer.

If the patch does not blend well with the rest of the nails, try using an Adjustment Layer. I usually start with the Brightness/Contrast followed by Hue/Saturation if needed. Also, note that you should use Clipping Masks here.

Use clipping masks Make sure to enable the Create Clipping Mask option.

Brightness and contrast adjustment layer Brightness: -41, Contrast: -23

I prefer to keep my patches all in one layer since it's a lot more easier to manage. If you also prefer it this way, just select all the extra layers you've created for the patch (this includes Adjustment layers, layers with layer masks..) and hit Ctrl+E to merge them together. Rename the merged layer to "patch".

Merge patch layers

And finally, to further blend the patch: With a soft round brush, you either use the Clone Stamp tool or the Eraser (E) along the overlapping edges.

Or, try using a textured brush as shown on the next method.

Using a textured brush.

In this method, I paint the nails using a textured brush. This is also useful for blending the pasted areas/patches. If you are using a graphics tablet, this will be a lot easier to do.

Download this metal texture brush set.

Load the brush set into Photoshop by going to the Brushes window (Window » Brushes or F5). Click open the options menu (tiny down-arrow at the top right corner of the window) and select "Load brushes".

Load brushes

Using the Brush tool (B), pick the first brush from the set (or try the others) and set the size to match the nail to patch. Then just paint over the nails -- using colors from the same area (Alt+Click). Note that you should do your painting on the "patch" layer.

Paint along the edges of the patch to blend it with the rest of the image.

Step 22: Cleaning up the rest of the thumb and fingers.

So here's another round of cleaning up done on the thumb.

Select nail Create a selection of a nail to use as a patch. Copy selection.

Paste patch Paste selection and transform as needed.

Add adjustment layers Blend using Adjustment Layers.

Erase edges Use a soft round eraser along the edges of the patch.

Result Merge patch layers.

Once you've completed the thumb, just repeat these steps (Steps 21/22) on the rest of the fingers.

Clean up is complete!

Step 23: Setting up highlights and shadows for the nail fingers.

We will be using the "dark-light" layer once again in this step.

At the Layers window, duplicate the "dark-light" layer (Ctrl+J). Then bring the copy to the top of all layers using Ctrl+Shift+].

Duplicate dark-light layer

Now we only want the "dark-light" layer to appear where the nail fingers are. So, we are going to need a clipping mask for that; however, in CS3, it is not possible to create clipping masks with groups. If this is true for your Ps version as well, a workaround you can do is to convert the group to a Smart Object first.

Just right click the "fingernails" group then select "Convert to Smart Object". Then, right click the "dark-light copy" layer and select "Create Clipping Mask".

Then group these two layers ("fingernails" and "dark-light copy") together so that they are now our new "fingernails" group.

Create clipping mask A quicker way to create a clipping mask is to Alt+Click between the layers.

Lastly, lower the opacity of the "dark-light copy" layer to around 70% or so, depending on how dark you want your shadows to be.


Step 24: Adding the highlights.

Duplicate the "dark-light copy" layer (Ctrl+J). Rename the top copy to "shadows" and the copy below it as "highlights".

Now for the "highlights" layer, set its Blending Mode to "Overlay" and Opacity to around 70% or so.

Notice that when we added the "highlights", the shadows have turned too dark. To fix this, we just remove the dark areas from the "highlights" layer.

Go to Select » Color Range. Set the Fuzziness to 200 and check "Invert". Now click on a really dark part of the image like in the image below.

Click OK and you will see that we now have the highlights selected. Add a layer mask to hide the non-selected areas which are the shadows.

Step 25: Fixing the highlights of the protruding nails.

As you can see, there are nails which were not included in the "highlights" layer. For these areas, we will be adding the highlights manually.

Missing highlights

Create a new layer (Ctrl+Shift+N) above the "highlights" layer and name it as "highlights extra".

Set the "highlights extra" layer's Blending Mode to "Overlay".

Switch to the Brush tool (B) and pick a round brush. Set its Hardness to around 40%.

Now set the Foreground color to White then on the "highlights extra" layer, paint on the areas of the nails which should have highlights.

Now you might encounter areas in which no matter how much you paint on it, it won't lighten up. This is because of the "shadows" layer above it.

Just add a layer mask to the "shadows" layer. Then on the layer mask, set the Foreground color to White then use the Eraser tool (E) to erase the dark areas.

Mask shadows

Continue this process until you have added the needed highlights on all the fingers.

Step 26: Fixing the shadows of the protruding nails.

For the shadows, create a new layer (Ctrl+Shift+N) above the "shadows" layer and name it as "shadows extra".

Set the "shadows extra" layer's Blending Mode to "Multiply".

Add new layer

Switch to the Brush tool (B) and pick a round brush. Set its Hardness to around 40%.

Now set the Foreground color to Black then on the "shadows extra" layer, paint on the areas of the nails which should have shadows.

Paint shadows Painted shadows on the marked areas.

Step 27: Adding skin!

I just added this step so that the nails would look like it's part of the hand and not just pasted in.

To start, create a new layer (Ctrl+Shift+N) above the rest of the layers. Name it as "skin".

Create a skin layer

How you go about adding skin is completely up to you. You can either copy areas from the hand and paste them over the nails (like we did in Step 22) or use the Clone Stamp tool (S).

I prefer using the Brush tool (B). To give you an idea of how I painted the skin, here's an illustration:

Paint some skin

And here's the result:

Step 28: Final adjustments.

For the final step, I just added a Curves Adjustment Layer. You can actually do whatever adjustment you want and put in any tweaks you need.

And that's it! I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and learned lots of stuff from it. As always, comments and questions are most welcome. Also, I'd love to hear your feedback about the video since I'm planning to make more soon. Feel free to tell me what you think as this will help me make better videos next time. Thank you!

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